What’s Your pH Level?

Outside my window, we have hydrangea bushes. Being a casual gardener, I was amazed to find out that the color of the blooms changes from blue to pink depending on the pH level of the soil. Such a dramatic response to such a small change in the ecosystem in which the plant grows.

How would you describe the ecosystem where your ministry takes place? What is your ministry “soil” like–rich and well-fertilized, tilled but untended, left to the elements, weak and even toxic?

As the gardener (don’t worry–I’m not going to dive into a deep metaphor on the parable of the Sower and the Seed!), we are responsible for the condition of the soil of our ministry. We may inherit an untended field, but it is our job to decide how to turn that field into something that flourishes.

In our Advent preparing, let’s take some time to dig into our ministry environment, and assess honestly all of the elements that go into it–volunteers, schedule, programming, printed resources, online resources, even your professional leadership. These are but a few of them.

Take some time to ask yourself the hard questions, the questions you really don’t want to answer or the answers you really don’t want to hear. Maybe you need to stop relying so heavily on printed resources. Maybe your ministry needs to have a stronger online presence through the parish website, Twitter account, or Facebook page or on Snapchat or Instagram. Maybe it’s time to take a class or two to update your knowledge of the ministry or just nurture yourself as a better minister. Perhaps it’s time to bring on an associate or intern who has different ideas.

Whatever you find in your reflection, choose one action. Yes, one. To change the color of hydrangeas from blue to pink only requires adding a little lime to the soil. One element. So, what is the one change that you can make that will impact your ministry in a positive way?

And whose help do you need?

A Teachable Moment: Syrian Refugees

Syria - Peace is PossibleThe world has been watching as Syrian refugees flee their country to find warmer, safer, healthier places to live. Catholic Relief Services and Caritas International invite us to Pope Francis in prayer on Monday, Oct. 31.

On October 31, Pope Francis will be saying a prayer for peace in Syria at 3 PM in Sweden. Caritas Internationalis is asking all members to encourage prayer around the world at that time (9AM ET) or at 3 PM local time—or any time that works. Here are links to the prayer and the overall campaign website.

Visit the website for ideas on how to spread the message that peace is possible in Syria.

One Tip on Healthy Culture

Blessed SacramentIf there is one lesson to be learned from this political season, it is how silence can breed mistrust and transparency can feed trust.

Catholics have many positive experiences of silence. The pause between an intercession and the words, “We pray to the Lord . . .” Or the grander silences like the incensing of the altar and preparation of the Blessed Sacrament on Holy Thursday.

In our secular experience, we often keep silent and do not talk about those things we share in common–“life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”–because we do share them.

However, this political year has shown us the high price for not talking about things.

On Sunday when my children’s choir led the music, one of the 6-year-olds looked up at me during the Eucharistic Prayer and asked me what the “round thing” in the priest’s hand was. I said, “It’s Jesus.” He mumbled, “It looks like a round thing.” I repeated it again, “It’s Jesus.” He looked away and the conversation ended.

But I stood there, looking at my eight 6-year-olds, knowing that they would be preparing for First Communion next year, thinking about how easy it was for me to just believe what was happening in the reverent silence, and how hard it was to explain it satisfactorily to a 6-year-old.

His understanding and trust in transubstantiation won’t come through osmosis by silently looking at the elevated host. It didn’t for me–or you. It will take lots of explanation, lots of tumbling around in his brain, lots of conversations and questions before he will be able to trust in our shared Catholic belief about the mystery of the Eucharist.

And if people like me and his parents and his teachers don’t take the time to talk with him about it over the years, he’ll make up his own mind . . . When that day comes (if it comes, please, no!), it will be near impossible for him to trust in any different understanding because those of us around him have been silent.

Bottom line: Information and transparency build trust. If we want to create a healthy culture, we must articulate what we know and believe first–and often–before we can settle into the silence of assumed agreement. And even then, we cannot be afraid to talk about them again and again and again.

Reason and Wonder

wonderReason and wonder are the two sides of a coin like the one that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel.

Good leaders have the ability to use both reason and wonder to inspire and motivate themselves and others to embrace the Good News, evangelize, and nourish those they encounter.

Today’s first reading from Ezekiel illustrates this. It begins with an ordered account of the when, rooting us in a specific time and place . . .

On the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year,
that is, of King Jehoiachin’s exile . . .
–Ezekiel 1:2

Then unfolds the mysterious, awesome, and wonderous vision of the glory of God.

Jesus recognizes this too in today’s Gospel. He puts the question to Peter about paying the temple tax, then instructs Peter to go fishing. In the mouth of the fish Peter catches, there is a coin with which they pay the tax. Practical yet wonder-filled.

I’ve often thought about how much of my day, week, month is spent focused on the quotidian efforts of answering the questions of who, what, where, and when, and limited time spent reflecting on the vision of the glory of God and what that might mean in my work and ministry.

I know I need the reasoned side of the coin, but do I forget the wonder side?

Where do I see wonder and want only to express it in praise?